Overdue but gratifying, Packers Jerry Kramer voted into Hall of Fame

Before their Super Bowl victory over New England, the last Philadelphia Eagles NFL championship had come before President Kennedy was inaugurated, when they topped the Green Bay Packers 17-13 in the title game.

One of the Packers playing that day in 1960 was Jerry Kramer, an offensive guard and future best-selling author, whose decades-long push to the Hall of Fame was finally realized last week.

For the 11th time since retiring, Kramer was eligible to be voted into the Hall, and this time he finally made it. Widely recognized for his literary efforts, Kramer was a stalwart on the Packers’ line who made first-team All-Pro five times.

His “Instant Replay” was one of a couple of books written by professional athletes that were required reading for a young sports fan in the 1960s and ’70s.

The other was “Ball Four,” a diary of the 1969 Seattle Pilots baseball season through the eyes of pitcher Jim Bouton, whose tales of player drug abuse and philandering were among the aspects of the book that helped strip off the veneer of hero-worship from the national pastime.

Kramer wrote “Instant Replay” about the Packers’ 1967 season, the year of their second Super Bowl victory and the fabled “Ice Bowl” that preceded it.

Due to its having been played in insufferably cold weather, the ’67 NFL “Ice Bowl” championship is one of a handful of games that has taken on a life of its own.

The Packers beat Dallas in the waning seconds, with quarterback Bart Starr sneaking in from the 1-yard line for the game-winning score.

In that telling, seminal play that has been shown hundreds of times over, Kramer shot low on Dallas defensive tackle Jethro Pugh while Packers center Ken Bowman hit him high, giving Starr the gap he needed to get home.

It was the beginning of Kramer’s rise to stardom, and to his circuitous journey to the Hall of Fame.

As the Packers were being feted for their second straight Super Bowl, Kramer was celebrated for his first-person account of the winning season. Readers were privy to the mental preparation that went into each week of practice, and to the rigorous expectations of the legendary coach, Vince Lombardi.

Kramer’s book was also groundbreaking in its featuring an offensive lineman – a position rarely spotlighted in pro football at the time – as the protagonist. As Kramer obsessed throughout the week of practice preparing for the Detroit Lions and defensive tackle Alex Karras, the reader obsessed along with him.

The book was called “Instant Replay” as a tip of the hat to the cutting-edge technology of the day which allowed viewers to watch a rewind of the play that was completed only seconds ago. Without instant replay on television, the world would never have known about Kramer’s block that opened up enough of a gap for Starr’s winning plunge.

The success of “Instant Replay” actually may have become too much of a hit for some Hall of Fame voters. Year after year, it was left for debate why a five-time, first-team All-Pro was not Hall of Fame material.

One possible reason given for his exclusion was that Hall voters had undergone “Packer fatigue” for having already inducted 11 members of the ‘60s juggernaut.

Other explanations for Kramer’s not getting in had a popularity-contest feel to it: He was a self-promoting publicity hound who got all the credit for a play of which he was only a part. Plus, he auctioned off his ring from the first Super Bowl for 125 grand. Who does that?

The takeaway seemed to be that unsung heroes are great stories, as long as it’s someone else doing the singing.

Kramer said that his memorabilia auction was done to establish a college fund for his grandkids. There is no dishonor, obviously, in providing for one’s grandchildren, nor should a player be penalized for having other good players around him.

The best thing that can be said about “Instant Replay,” as it relates to Kramer and the Hall of Fame vote, is that there wasn’t another one.